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Gabriel Byrne on the idea of looking at the story of Ireland and Irish America on film. To learn more about what artists have to say, take our online course, Modern and Contemporary Art, 1945-1989. Created by The Museum of Modern Art.
- The idea of looking at the story of Ireland, and Irish America on film, is something that had always fascinated me, because I had grown up in a country, where the depiction of ourselves in cinema was so rare, that I remember once being at a film, which was preceded by a short documentary about Dublin. And it was so rare for Dublin to see itself on the screen, that when it came on in this short documentary, it got a round of applause. What I really wanted to do, I think, was to examine something at a filmic level that had occupied me, which is, who are we and how are we perceived by audiences outside Ireland? It occurred to me that a great deal of what we think and know and perceive about each other is through the world of film. We need to hear the authentic, indigenous voices of other people through film. The problem with not having an indigenous film industry, is that other people come in and make your films for you. Your point of view, your perspective of the world is told through somebody else's focus. The most well-known film that was made in Ireland was "The Quiet Man". It was a film that mythically invented the kind of Ireland, that, not just Irish people wanted to see, but that seemingly everybody around the world wanted to see. I think it was in about in 1982, Neil Jordan made "Angel", which was the first film by a young, Irish filmmaker to deal with, as they call them, the troubles in the north of Ireland. It was a very tumultuous time in Irish and British politics. But out of that came Jordan and Sheridan, and this was the first time that Irish filmmakers had access to the means of telling their own story. It kind of interests me when people say, "Oh, Ireland. Yeah, Ireland, they've always "had their troubles with politics over there." But, the Irish peace process, which was many years in the making, was signed ten years ago. And it's an inspiration to the world, that after 400 years of warfare, a peace accord was signed. The other film that I chose, "The Wind That Shakes the Barley", is the first film that I could look at and say, "If I knew nothing about the history of Ireland, "that's the film that would tell me the story of it." It also has huge parallels with the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, although it's set in Ireland in 1920. The idea of invasion and terrorism, and I hope that the themes will be as compelling to American audiences as they will be to people from other places. There's a kind of an audience, I think, that wants to see just a certain kind of film from Ireland. And young, Irish filmmakers, their problem is that, off their back, they have to get the label of being Irish. Just like Roddy Doyle said about being a writer, he said, "Every Irish writer has to get Joyce off his back "before he can become the writer he's meant to be." The future of Irish film depends on young filmmakers like that, that they can tell their own stories, and that they can be universal. I think these are not just Irish films, they're also American films, in the sense that we're all connected by the same concerns through the ages. Not just 1950 or 1850, but way before that. Although technology has advanced hugely, the human condition, it's debatable whether that has changed, and that's why people make films. They make them about the human condition.